Friday, December 28, 2018

Ethnoastronomical perspectives on Saami religion

Bo Sommarström
Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis
Volume 12, 1987


There are several difficulties in interpreting the pictures on the Saami shaman drums. Some of the figures found in the space between the central sun sign and the edge on some fifty drumskins occupy positions within certain quadrants like similar figures in our traditional western star charts. The present study continues the theme of by making a comparison of the pictures on the edge and the central figure complex (the sun sign). As the analysis has been extended, it has also become possible to adopt a new position with regard to the overall picture. This has led to observations that the zodiac can be discerned more or less clearly in the mass of constellations, that the positioning is decided by orientating the drum in relation to the height of the sun and thus to the Saamis' calendar, to the seasons and to the cardinal points. It is moreover probable that the drums were connected, at least indirectly, to a commonly held idea about the natural elements and their connection with people's basic temperaments. In other words: the similarity between the Saamis' "magic drums" and the astrolabes found among the European neighbouring peoples has been further reinforced, provided one means by this the basic pattern of the figures and their arrangement in a holistic system which we could regard as a psycho-cosmogram. It is even possible that the Saami shaman, noai'de, if he peered from underneath, through the semitransparent drumskin, could understand the horoscope diagram with its reversed constellations/signs as was used by his colleagues in the rest of Europe—as a theistically sanctioned cosmological projection, in contrast to the natural reproduction by the Saami drum of the apparent anti-clockwise rotation of the stars once every twenty-four hours.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Liminality, rock art and the Sami sacred landscape

Our reconstruction of the ancient Sami world-view, based on various sources (Mulk & Bayliss-Smith 2006: 96). In this diagram the images representing Máttaráhkká and the funeral boat are copied from two figures depicted at the Badjelándda site (D18 and D13 respectively).

Figure 7: Our reconstruction of the ancient Sami world-view, based on various sources (Mulk & Bayliss-Smith 2006: 96). In this diagram the images representing Máttaráhkká and the funeral boat are copied from two figures depicted at the Badjelándda site (D18 and D13 respectively).

Inga-Maria Mulk, Tim Bayliss-Smith
Journal of Northern Studies


The paper suggests that cultural landscapes were permeated by religious meanings in all pre-modern societies, including Sami societies before c. AD 1600. We suggest that knowledge of this sacred landscape was not restricted to an elite or to shamans, but was widely shared. For the Sami, religious rituals and associated images (e.g. rock art) involved all levels within a social hierarchy that linked the individual adult or child, the family, the band or sijdda, and the association of family groups or vuobme. We can decode the sacred landscapes of such societies if we can reconstruct sites of perceived anomaly and liminality in the landscape. This is discussed in the article with reference to Proto-Uralic cosmology in general and the Sami world-view in particular. The concepts of anomaly and liminality enable us to interpret the Badjelánnda rock art site in Laponia, northern Sweden, as not only a place of resource procurement (asbestos, soapstone) but also a sacred site. We suggest that the Badjelánnda site should be seen as a gateway to the Underworld, and therefore visits for quarrying, human burials at the site, or wild reindeer hunting in the vicinity were marked by ritual acts, directed perhaps towards the Sami female deity Máttaráhkká. The rock art should therefore be interpreted as an aspect of religious ritual, and in a context where anomalous topography signified that the Badjelánnda site was necessarily a liminal place.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Down In Yon Forest

Singer:  Bruce Cockburn on Christmas, 1993 recording
Collected from Southern Appalachia by John Jacob Niles


Down in yon forest be a hall,
Sing May, Queen May, sing Mary!
'Tis coverlided over with purple and pall.
Sing all good men for the new-born Baby!

Oh in that hall is a pallet bed:
Sing May, Queen May, sing Mary!
'Tis stained with blood like cardinal red.
Sing all good men for the new-born Baby!

And at that pallet is a stone
Sing May, Queen May, sing Mary!
On which the Virgin did atone
Sing all good men for the new-born Baby!

Under that Hall is a gushing flood:
Sing May, Queen May, sing Mary!
From Christ's own side 'tis water and blood.
Sing all good men for the new-born Baby!

Beside that bed a shrub tree grows,
Sing May, Queen May, sing Mary!
Since He was born hit blooms and blows.
Sing all good men for the new-born Baby!

Oh, on that bed a young Squire sleeps,
Sing May, Queen May, sing Mary!
His wounds are sick, and see, he weeps.
Sing all good men for the new-born Baby!

Oh hail yon Hall were none can sin,
Sing May, Queen May, sing Mary!
Cause hit's gold outside and silver within,
Sing all good men for the new-born Baby!

See also:

The Meaning of the Corpus Christi Carol
Richard L. Greene
Medium Ævum
Vol. 29, No. 1 (1960), pp. 10-21

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Corpus Christi Carol

Mezzo Soprano:  Janet Baker
Composer:  Benjamin Britten
Piano:  Gerald Moore

The Meaning of the Corpus Christi Carol
Richard L. Greene 
Medium Ævum 
Vol. 29, No. 1 (1960), pp. 10-21

Friday, December 21, 2018

Lux Aeterna

Lux Aeterna by Ivo Antognini (Link
performed by the Phoenix Chamber Choir (Vancouver, Canada), 
Graeme Langager, conductor

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Why Current Genetic Ancient DNA Evidence Does Not Tell Us When Humans Reached North America

I have recently seen discussed among people interested in the peopling of the Americas that there is now enough ancient DNA evidence to definitely tell us when humans first arrived here.

I will now discuss why the currently available ancient DNA evidence for Siberia, Asia, Alaska and North America is insufficient to make this assertion.

Here is the ancient DNA genetic evidence that I am aware of, related to Siberia and North America, in the period of interest (42,000 to 9,800 years ago):

Yana RHS
date: 31,500 years BP

date:  12,707–12,556 years BP

date:  11,500 years BP

date:  24,000 years BP

date:  9.8 years BP

date:  39,000 to 42,000 BP

If you account for the fact that Beringia was unflooded and walkable until 11,000 years ago, you would expect that there would be continuous gene flow between Siberia and North America until 11,000 years ago.  Kolyma, in fact, shows this.  But this gene flow would have over written the genetic signature of earlier populations in Beringia.  Therefore, the correct experiments would look at the structure and gene flow of populations between Asia and the Americas using contemporaneous-in-time samples between the Americas and Asia.

Since we do not as yet have contemporaneous-in-time samples in the Americas that could be compared to Mal'ta, Yana RHS, and Tianyuan, we cannot say that we have properly run the experiment to look for how and when humans moved between Asia and America in the last 40,000 years.  Looking objectively at the last 40,000 years with contemporaneous comparisons between continents would be a good start for these geneticists.

What I do see in these ancient DNA papers and associated material in the press are lots of "eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows", showing a big jump from East Asians 26,000 years ago to Native Americans 13,000 years ago, but with a complete absence of data for Beringia and the Americas earlier than 13,000 years ago.  Take, for instance, this article:

This model has a 13,000 year gap where we do not know where anyone was.  And there is no data for the Americas, not even Alaska and the Yukon, before 13,000 years ago.  Yet we know humans were in the Yukon for more than 10,000 years prior to 13,000 years ago, based on the Bluefish Cave site.

A further weakness of the current paradigm that argues for the peopling of the Americas after 16,000 years ago is that it does not account for the obvious back migrations that would have continuously occurred between Siberia, Asia and the Americas.  These back migrations would continue to "over-write" earlier populations in the region.

Therefore, the current genetic evidence does not indicate with any degree of confidence that humans reached the Americas south of the Cordilleran-Laurentide ice sheets only after 16,000 years ago.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Human Occupation of Northern Australia by 65,000 Years Ago

Clarkson et al.
20 July 2017


The time of arrival of people in Australia is an unresolved question. It is relevant to debates about when modern humans first dispersed out of Africa and when their descendants incorporated genetic material from Neanderthals, Denisovans and possibly other hominins. Humans have also been implicated in the extinction of Australia’s megafauna. Here we report the results of new excavations conducted at Madjedbebe, a rock shelter in northern Australia. Artefacts in primary depositional context are concentrated in three dense bands, with the stratigraphic integrity of the deposit demonstrated by artefact refits and by optical dating and other analyses of the sediments. Human occupation began around 65,000 years ago, with a distinctive stone tool assemblage including grinding stones, ground ochres, reflective additives and ground-edge hatchet heads. This evidence sets a new minimum age for the arrival of humans in Australia, the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa, and the subsequent interactions of modern humans with Neanderthals and Denisovans.